This being an account of Steph’s attendance at Contact (the 2016 Australian Natcon), and the adventures she found there.
Be at the Con
I wasn’t going to go to Contact this year, because $$$. But the Chair asked very nicely, and a week out from the Con there was still a Con or Bust membership left to go.
Earlier, I’d not wanted to use it because I wanted to prioritise a brown fan perhaps in rural Queensland or FNQ or even the Gold Coast. But a week out I claimed it for mine and suddenly found myself going. Con or Bust paid for my membership only, but it was just enough assistance to make it financially viable to go.
Take advantage of Con or Bust if you can, Asian girls. (There’s currently Con or Bust assistance available for Au Contraire in NZ in June, JUST FYI)
I attended Ben Aaronovich’s Guest of Honour speech, which I rarely do. But his main character is BROWN so it’s very important. And it was nice, for once, to have someone white speak to that and actually not fail the way I fear they will:
(If you want to know more excellent opinions on various panels at Contact, please read Rivqa’s storify of the whole thing. I often rely on Rivqa at cons to remind me of what was said specifically so I remember who to hate later)
Make friends with as many brown girls as possible; definitely follow them on twitter. At Contact I got to hang out with brown girls I have known, and also new people with excellent opinions.
The Asian girl lesson here is to be visibly brown. This doesn’t necessarily mean visually (cf, my skin), but within the world.
Yell at People
I was on two panels. Queer SF is the panel I was invited to be on, and it was a bit of a 101 on Queer Representation. Our panel was sadly 100% bi cis ladies, which is FUN TIMES but not exactly representing a diversity of queerness. I spent a lot of time rambling about the Autostraddle Dead Ladies list and attempting to remain on topic, even though I was invited to ramble on brown representation. WHO AM I, TO GIVE UP THIS CHANCE?
Despite being forced (by me) to moderate the panel, delightful con-companion Rivqa managed to note down the things the panel came up with as ‘good queer representation: Ann Leckie, The 100, Kameron Hurley, NK Jemisin, CS Pacat, Sense8, JY Yang, Ken Liu, Lost Girl, Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman, Young Avengers, Captain Jack, Hannibal (the TV series), Nicola Griffith and Charlie Jane Anders.
(Please note that I would NEVER recommend The 100 to anyone)
So when I realised I was going to Contact, and that there weren’t actually very many panels at all about specifically brown issues, I pitched for a last minute panel inclusion, which hilariously was accepted. The result was a hastily written half hour presentation on Culture for Consumption and the Alien Other.
It will not surprise you to learn it was 30 minutes of me rambling about the ways in which existing Earth cultures that aren’t Western are used as short hand for Aliens and the Future. Because this was last minute and only had about 15 audience members, we made this a bit more of a led discussion.
Rivqa both participated and livetweeted, so you can see her interpretation of events by clicking through on the tweet below.
Ugh AVATAR, NOBODY MENTION THE WAR IN BA SING SE.
[Interjection from Liz, because SOMEONE mentioned Avatar and that’s like the Bat Signal but for Lizzes: the movie didn’t even “borrow” Asian cultural aspects, it just … I dunno, maybe there was a Pinterest board that was used as research. The classical Chinese calligraphy of the animated series was replaced with random squiggles (here’s a statement from Official Avatar Calligrapher Professor S L Lee), all the hanfu was tied the wrong way, and the Fire Nation were … randomly Roman? Like, played by brown people of various backgrounds, but the architecture was Roman? I DON’T EVEN KNOW, I’m just so mad about that movie.]
I do have a full write up of this panel planned, but I’m hoping to turn it into an article so hang around for that. However IN BRIEF:
THE OTHER AS FUTURE
Firefly: Firefly is set in space in 2517 in some sort of fusion Chinese and American future, ie, what a white man thinks is Chinese: Chinese lanterns, simplified Chinese on signs, terrible Mandarin spoken by white people, chopsticks and baozi. With space ships, these are the signs of the future. So the future looks like Asian trappings, but no Asian people. Statistically this is unlikely. With the current brown person population on Earth, and the likelihood of China continuing to dominate economically and scientifically, the points of difference between Earth now and our space-faring future aren’t going to be white people in Chinoiserie (we have that now); it’s gonna be brown people in Chinoiserie. High fives.
[Liz notes: Separately, I included Lierdomua’s excellent, scathing vid, “How Much Is That Geisha In the Window” in the vid show, which ran without me.]
Cinder: I’ve written about this in detail before, you should READ THREE THOUSAND WORDS HERE: The Exotic Place as Other (and notes on cinder, by marissa meyer)
THE OTHER AS ALIEN
Star Trek: Star Trek is all about the dominant USAmerican hegemony and how, if you’re not American, you almost certainly come from a monoculture and can only be one thing.
Vulcans are Japanese, right? Stern and logical, with bowl haircuts and slanted eyebrows, and they study a lot? Ferengi are Jewish, and stingy with money. Lagonians, portrayed in TNG entirely by black actors, wearing ‘African’ coded clothing. Bajorans as an indigenous melange, Klingons as the USSR, and Romulans as Communist China.
And through it all, who is the Federation, those who are from Earth, those who are human? Oh, just Americans.
Star Wars: The Sand People are “vicious brutes” who live in the desert, wear pale long robes, and keep their faces covered. The Neimoidians talk with a heavy accent, mix up their l and r, and their colony planets could be termed Japanese inspired (Cato, Deko).
[Interjection from Liz: literally the first time I came home from a movie and wrote about how it was horribly racist, I was mad about the Neimoidians and the whole Yellow Peril aspect of the Trade Federation. ALSO, in The Clone Wars, the Banking Clan all have big noses and stereotypically “Jewish” profiles, except for their human adoptee who looks like any old WASP. STAR WARS, YOU DISAPPOINT ME ON SO MANY LEVELS.]
Jar Jar and the Gungans are childlike and loveable and need guidance and are blackface caricatures, and play really heavily into USAmerican stereotypes of African-Americans. But who are the Jedi? And all the other humans? They’re white.
I ALSO went on an amazing rant about THE CLOTHES and the fetishisation of the clothes stolen from other cultures at this time.
Stargate: OH MY GOD.
The film starred James Spader as the white “Egyptologist” who thinks ancient Egyptians were too dumb to build pyramids
We also spoke about the appropriation of Nazi imagery to shorthand ‘evil’ (I’m pretty sure that at this point I yelled “Can’t they just murder someone? Bam, shorthand for villain.”) and how Mad Max: Fury Road created a great, OTT, recognisable SF villain without othering anyone. I also said Pacific Rim did this well, but I GUESS it’s okay if you disregard that because Kaiju are miscellaneous monsters from another dimension and not actually humans in suits and therefore a different thesis all together.
The lesson from this bit is to find room to yell about racism in fandom. Go do it. It’s great, highly recommend it.
You don’t have to be on a panel to do this. I LOVE hosting this sort of panel because it creates a space where it’s safe for quiet/shyer brown girls to yell about this business, and I like to think I’ve garnered a reputation for being someone who will encourage this to happen. But even if you can’t actively create this space for others, go use the spaces others create for you. PLEASE COME YELL WITH ME.
EDIT: I have since riffed off this panel and the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell and WROTE A POST ABOUT IT for Overland Lit Mag: Space racism: on Hollywood actors & their whitewashing
Always Ask (even if it’s just on twitter)
At a panel on fantasy I attended, a panelist said “the world’s most beloved fairytales.” Later, another panelist said “everyday magic.” Ask yourself, if all the fairytales being discussed are European, what assumptions are they making about the world and fairytales? If it’s a shorthand, a shorthand for what? A shorthand only works if everyone knows it. If the everyday magic doesn’t reflect your life, what assumptions are they making about class and gender and ethnicity and ability?
When people say ‘the world’s most beloved fairytales’ in Australia, they are almost never talking about The Monkey King; when they talk about everyday magic they’re not thinking about the everyday magic of a bagua over your mum’s door.
The Asian girl lesson is, in Australia, we are not usually the intended audience. If you can point that out, definitely point it out.
Pretend to be a White Girl
I pretended to be Liz. By which I mean, I did her fundraising by saying “Liz broke her foot but still has to do the tedious bits of being NAFF delegate; help me make it easier for her by buying a ticket or donating to NAFF.” You can continue to help Liz out by donating to NAFF online, please contact Liz cos that’s her responsibility now MWAHAHA.
I also started the sympathy vote campaign to get Liz to whatever the next Natcon after Melbourne is. Usually you can’t do it again, but I spent the time garnering sympathy for her anyway JUST IN CASES.
The Asian girl lesson here is, think ahead.
Good times, everyone. Thanks to Contact for letting me yell about things, Con or Bust for being an excellent brown girl support, and my friend Lucy for letting me crash on her couch when SOMEONE broke their foot and could no longer share a hotel room.
[Interjection from Liz: I HAVE A LOT OF IRRATIONAL GUILT ABOUT THAT, LET ME TELL YOU.]